by Father Mark Goldasich
Not a day goes by when I’m not thankful for them. Though the frames and prescriptions have changed over the years since I started wearing them in the fourth grade, one thing hasn’t: the thrill of seeing the world clearly.
Each March, I’m reminded of a happy pairing: the season of Lent with National Save Your Vision Month. As glasses sharpen our physical sight, so Lent provides an opportunity to refocus our spiritual vision.
One of the most common eye problems today, experts say, is DES, which stands for “digital eye strain.” Most of us spend way too much time staring at screens — smartphones, computers, tablets and video games — leading to eye irritation, dryness, fatigue and blurred vision.
Spiritually speaking, we suffer from “I” strain as well, losing focus on our dependence upon God and one another. This condition leads to arrogance, selfishness and an excessive preoccupation with things of this world.
As eye care specialists treat the illnesses of physical vision, so the “I” care specialists of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — seek to heal the sicknesses of the soul.
When approaching anything, though, perspective is important. Roger Dawson illustrates this well when commenting on “The Jungle Is Neutral,” a book by Fred Spencer:
Spencer was a British soldier serving in a small garrison on Singapore in World War II. The defense of the garrison was one-sided. The soldiers expected any attack to come from the sea, since they believed that no army could pass through the impenetrable jungles in the north. They were wrong. The Japanese navigated through those thick jungles and Singapore fell with relative ease.
Spencer was able to escape, however, and spent nine months living in the jungle. Because he’d heard two conflicting reports about the jungle, he didn’t really know what to expect. On the one hand, he’d heard it was filled with snakes and insects, fruit so poisonous that one bite would kill you and vicious wild animals. A man would die there very quickly. Another story, though, saw the jungle as a lush, tropical paradise, filled with plenty of fresh water and edible fruit, making it a place where anyone could survive almost effortlessly.
What Spencer discovered in his months there was the jungle was neutral. It could either destroy or support him. In other words, his survival depended on the amount of effort he put into surviving. He could make this environment what he chose it to be. (Story adapted from Brian Cavanaugh’s “The Sower’s Seeds.”)
Lent, too, is neutral. Its “success” depends on the effort that each person puts into it.
For healthy physical eyes, experts recommend these strategies: Zoom in (read text in a larger font size on screens rather than bring the device closer to your eyes); roll your eyes side to side or up and down (to lubricate and strengthen them); invest in a pair of quality sunglasses.
We might apply these same suggestions during Lent for healthy spiritual “I’s”:
• Zoom in on people in your neighborhood, parish or community that you typically overlook. Notice and respond to their needs as you practice almsgiving.
• Roll your eyes to the temptations to overindulge in any way and welcome the discipline to fast from excessive eating, drinking, spending or time wasting.
• Invest in some quality “Son” glasses. Make time for more prayer this Lent through spiritual reading, Stations of the Cross, meditative pondering of the Bible or quiet conversations with the “Son” — not only to get to know him better, but to see the world through his lenses.
These 40 days of Lent are offered but not forced on us by the Lord. He’s just patiently waiting to “see” what we’ll do with them.